Barry Ryan worked for an organisation that did not exist.
Barry arrived into work on what seemed like it would be a morning like any other. His unctuous colleague Lyon was loafing around his desk.
"Well well well, Mr Ryan, you're a bit late, aren't you?" Lyon asked in an accusatory tone.
"I think not, I swiped in before the deadline", replied Ryan, taking off his coat and wishing Lyon would fuck off to any someone else.
"Well I'm not sure the boss would agree – he was down looking for you an hour ago".
Ryan noticed a sticky on the monitor of his computer, with a handwritten scrawl in the distinctive pidgin Irish favoured by the Chief:
"A CHARA, DUL SUAS MÉ A FEACH ANOIS, MAS É DO THOIL IS MISE ETC. – P"
"Thanks Lyon, I can read". Ryan sat down at his desk. "Any idea what this is about?"
"No no, but the boss seemed very agitated. I bet you're in big trouble, better get up there sharpish". Lyon sniggered.
"I suppose I should", Ryan said, trying to affect an air of nonchalance but actually worried. Having to deal with the Chief was always difficult and often involved such unpleasantness as being given work to do. "But don't you have things to be doing? Maybe you should fuck off to do them?"
Lyon adopted a facial expression suggested a highly exaggerated sense of hurt at Ryan's expletive and retreated away, though as he disappeared behind a partition Barry was blessed with a last glimpse of his grinning maw.
I'd better go and see the Chief, thought Barry.
Ryan made his way down the corridor to the Chief's office and knocked on the door. A grunted "Dul isteach" called him in.
Ryan sat in the chair indicated for him. Its low design was almost certainly arranged deliberately so that from behind his desk the Chief (a man not over blessed in height) could tower over any visitor.
"So, you were looking for me, Chief?" asked Ryan, using English in the hope that it would divert his boss into a language he could actually understand.
"Yes, Barry, yes I was," said the Chief in the tongue of Ireland's enemies. The twin portraits behind him of Padraig Pearse and Rory O'Connor looked down disapprovingly. "Strange things are afoot. Tell me, how are things with you at the moment? Are they going well?"
"Oh yes, well I can't complain, not that it stops me". Ryan wondered where this was going.
"Do you have much on at the moment?"
The Chief fixed Ryan with a steely gaze. This was always a worrying question. It signified either that the Chief had some kind of new task for him or that he suspected him of slacking off. Given that Ryan was slacking off, he had to be careful how to respond. But if he were to claim that he was incredibly busy with all kinds of non-existent activity there was the danger that the Chief might take an interest in it and ask him for a full report on where his investigations were going.
"Well," he replied, playing for time, "I'm collating information from a number of informants and sources".
"Anything out of the ordinary? Anything juicy?"
"Well, it's pretty routine stuff, to be honest. Low grade data, nothing anyone would get too excited about".
"I see, I see". The Chief paused, staring into space as though pondering some weighty question. He started to hum a song to himself. Ryan recognised it as having lyrics involving Black and Tans, the Flight of the Earls, the infamy of Diarmuid McMurrough and the heroic victory of Fontenoy. It was one of the Chief's party pieces and he always made sure to sing it at the Organisation's Christmas party, forcing everyone to join in on the chorus.
The Chief kept humming his song to himself, now seemingly oblivious to Ryan's presence. When he switched from that to a ballad listing all of Ireland's fallen heroes Ryan began to wonder if it would be acceptable for him to leave, or if perhaps he should call a doctor. Instead he made a slight cough to remind the Chief of his presence. This snapped the great man out of his reveries. He appeared somewhat confused.
"Cad atá isteach?" he muttered. He then noticed Ryan, looked at him quizzically, and then recollected himself. Nodding sagely, the Chief picked up a bundle of papers and handed them to Barry. "What do you make of this?" he inquired.
Ryan looked at the bundle. A4 size, bound with two staples in the spine, it seemed to be somewhere between 50 and a hundred pages in length. The cover had a photocopied image of some black circles and some text while the back had a crudely reproduced photocopy of a typewritten text. None of the writing meant anything to him.
"It doesn't look like much to me, Chief", Ryan answered.
"It's not meant to, Barry, it's not meant to. But I have reason to believe that what you are holding in your hand is a threat to the security of the State". The Chief imparted this information in the most solemn tone a short bearded man can muster.
"Really?" said Ryan, trying to sound like he was open to the suggestion that the photocopied papers represented some kind of existential crisis. "What makes you think that?"
"I have my reasons", answered the Chief. He was smug now, confident that his simple statement was enough to dispel any doubts on the part of his subordinate.
"And what is the nature of the threat they contain?" asked Ryan, wondering if it might not be too late to put in a transfer to a proper Department where the senior management were at least somewhat competent and blessed with some kind of understanding of where reality ended and fantasy began.
"Well Barry, that is what I want you to find out. Stop what you are doing immediately, and take this document on. Read it carefully. Carefully! I have my reasons for believing that it contains coded messages – signals between foreign powers and their agents in this country, as well as communications between subversive elements. Find out what's going on here, Barry!"
The Chief was emphatic. Barry was still somewhat confused.
"Would it be possible for you to, | don't know, fill me in on your reasons for thinking that this document contains such coded messages?"
"I'm afraid not, Barry". The Chief was smug again. "Need to know, a chara, need to know".
"Well Barry", said the Chief, in a tone indicating that the conversation was over, "I can't keep you from your important work any longer. I know I can count on you on this one".
"Thanks Chief" said Barry, making his way to the door. "You can rely on me".
"But Barry!" said the Chief abruptly just as Ryan was leaving. "Keep this under your hat! Don't let anyone else know what you're working on. This stuff is dynamite. We can't let the Opposition find out that we're onto them. Trust no one. Tell nothing to anyone. Least of all to that gobshite Lyon. There's a question mark over him, if you see what I'm saying".
"I'm with you Chief", said Ryan, secretly pleased that there was some prospect of Lyon being exposed as a double agent and despatched to the Organisation's holding facility in Belmullet. "Be seeing you".
* * * * *
While Ryan had been having this conversation with the Chief, Lyon had gone back to his desk smiling happily to himself. He enjoyed his chats with his colleague Ryan, their friendly banter being a large part of what made working in the Organisation bearable. He could tell that Ryan was grateful for having been tipped off that the Chief was looking for him – forewarned is forearmed, after all. He was a good fellow, was Barry Ryan. With people like him on the case the country was in safe hands.
So Lyon mused as he went back to work on his investigations into Ethiopian intelligence infiltration of the Library Association of Ireland.
* * * * *
After surfing the Internet for the best part of an hour Ryan reckoned that maybe it was time to start looking at the document the Chief had given him. A quick skim suggested that it was some kind of amateur publication dealing with music – or so, on the surface, it appeared. The font and layout seemed to go through abrupt changes from one part of the document to another, corresponding to the purported authors of each piece. A list of contributors at the beginning confirmed that they were located in Ireland, Britain and the United States, with one in the Netherlands. But Ryan noticed one thing that made him wonder whether maybe, just maybe, the Chief might actually be onto something. The various musical performers mentioned in the publication were not what one would call household names. Ryan did not think of himself as a keen music aficionado, but he did listen to the radio and felt that he was reasonably au fait with the latest happening sounds. In the Chief's document, however, there seemed to be a succession of references to performers that he had never heard of, usually named as playing kinds of music that sounded distinctly fictional. This would be an ideal way of hiding coded messages. Might the Chief not actually be delusional?
He opened a page at random and started reading more closely.
"The first band I saw were Nuada, some English-Irish folkies (two women and a man) who perform in (faux?) period costumes and play various olde instruments. They were playing when we arrived in the Dock on the first night. I think I liked them because I had not realised that the festival was going to be featuring anything other than guys fiddling with laptops, so they signalled that the event was going to be a bit more musically varied. I saw them again on the Sunday, when they began their set in the church by parading in playing bodhran-like drums and pipes. On this occasion I was struck by what rofflers they were."
This was accompanied by an indistinct photocopied picture of three people dressed like extras from the Lord of the Rings.
Looking back, Ryan saw that this piece of writing occurred in a discussion of a music festival – not the kind of music festival like Oxegen or the Electric Picnic that you hear about on TV and in the papers, but some kind of festival for people who get their kicks listening to music you never hear on the radio. This kind of thing would an ideal front for foreign agents and the like to get together, thought Ryan. Something this boring would never run any risk of random members of the public wandering in, and the Guards would never think of sticking their thick heads anywhere near a festival of unlistenable hippy music. It really was perfect, thought Ryan – except that the Chief had seen through the plans of these enemies of the nation.
Did these musicians even exist? Ryan went back to the Internet and searched for this Nuada group. After wading through several pages dealing with terrifying Jim Fitzpatrick art, he found that, yes, there was actually a group called Nuada and that they did seem to be the people in the grainy photograph. Or, at least, there was a website run by people calling themselves Nuada on which they claimed to be a group of musicians. But, again, that could all be a front as well. That was the thing with subversives and foreign agents. When they created a false identity they would go to great lengths to make it look as real and as thorough as possible.
Ryan then searched for the festival this Nuada group were purportedly playing at. It seemed to exist, in that it too had a website and there were various other references to it on the Internet. Not too many, mind, but then it was purporting to be a small-scale event. Everything was consistent with it having been an actual event that had recently taken place. The enemy was clever. A fake band with a fake website playing at a fake festival, with everything set up to look like it was not fake at all but real, as real as the Organisation Ryan worked for.
But then Ryan stopped. The Organisation was not real, at least not in the sense that it had any presence on the web or that anyone outside of its corridors had ever heard of it. Maybe they were going about things the wrong way. If they wanted to be really secret, perhaps they should put up a billboard advertising the Organisation outside their headquarters and set up a flash website with a mission statement and a listing of personnel. That would throw the Opposition off the sent. Ryan would have to suggest this to the Chief.
The thought distracted Ryan. He started looking on the Internet for the websites of the Organisation's analogues in other countries. What could be discerned from them? Was there a pattern to how they used a public presence to mask their real purpose?
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